News / Middle East

Anti-Government Protests Spread Across Middle East, North Africa

Yemeni anti-government demonstrators shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen, February 18, 2011
Yemeni anti-government demonstrators shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen, February 18, 2011


Elizabeth Arrott

Demonstrations against long-serving governments continue to roil the Middle East and North Africa Friday from Libya eastward to Bahrain.

In Libya, more protests as well as funerals for those killed in recent unrest were held after midday prayers, and witnesses said demonstrators gathered in the port city Benghazi, a bastion of resentment against the government.

Human Rights Watch said Saturday that 84 people have been killed in recent violence in Libya, many of them in Benghazi.   Graphic videos posted on the Internet have shown shootings described as being inflicted by armed forces against protesters.  

Libyan media are tightly controlled, and the contents of the amateur videos could not be independently confirmed.

Another video purports to show protesters in Tobruk cheering as crowds knock down a government statue.


In Tripoli, so far largely untouched by the turmoil, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been at the center of pro-government demonstrations - an apparent attempt to place himself within the context of change demanded in nations across the region.   He recently doubled the salaries of state employees and released 110 people accused of being Islamic militants.  

But from the perspective of having the world's longest-serving leader, protesters view his gestures as missing the point.   The oil-rich nation has a more equitable standard of living than neighboring countries, but it is Mr. Ghadafi's crushing, often arbitrary, political system in place more than 41 years that protesters want changed.

Protests began Tuesday, with Thursday's demonstrations called a "Day of Rage," an echo of protests in Egypt and Tunisia that ended with their leaders stepping down.


In Yemen, anti-government rallies were being held for an eighth day Friday.  Stephen Steinbeiser, director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies in the capital, Sana'a, says the demonstrators show no signs of stopping.  

"It certainly hasn't gotten to the point that Cairo was at a couple of weeks ago, where everything has come to a standstill," said Steinbeiser.  "But it also doesn't seem that it is unfolding in the same way that Cairo unfolded, in the sense of a kind of peaceful - relatively peaceful - positive, people-led movement.  And that's a bit disconcerting."

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is accused by protesters of running a repressive regime.  But his authority is far from absolute.   Tribal allegiances, a bid for independence in the south, a sporadic revolt in the north and al Qaida forces in the east complicate any demands for change in the Arab world's poorest nation.

Related report by VOA's Carolyn Presutti

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